July 21, rumors about the death of 62-year-old Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov spread. Aslan Rubaev, director of the Russian "Center for Monitoring Eurasian Problems", said, referring to familiar businessmen from Ashgabat, Berdymukhamedov died during a vacation on Saturday, July 20.
Free Turkmenistan opposition channel announced that renal failure caused the death.
However, on the same day, the Turkmen embassy in Russia refuted this version. The information appeared that the Turkmen president went to Germany to visit his sick mother. Berdymukhamedov also congratulated the Turkmen doctors on their professional holiday on July 21.
It remains an open question where information about the death of the second president of Turkmenistan came from.
Part of the Turkmen society is unhappy with the regime of Berdymukhamedov. Despite the fact that Turkmenistan has the fourth-largest natural gas reserves in the world, the population suffers from social and economic instability, shortages, and malnutrition. Turkmen shops have a long queue for groceries. It is difficult to find a job in the country, and average salaries are $ 60-70 per month.
It is not easy to leave Turkmenistan for work and for this you need to obtain a special exit visa. Citizens not younger than 40 years may leave the country. By restricting exit from the country, the government is struggling with the mass emigration of the population.
Turkmenistan suffers from hyperinflation (over 290% of GDP). The economy of Turkmenistan has a commodity nature and is based on the export of natural gas. The manufacturing sector is underdeveloped and mainly represented by the textile industry.
Along with North Korea, Turkmenistan is one of the most closed countries in the world, and its international neutrality is confirmed by a separate resolution of the UN General Assembly. The entry of journalists to this country is limited because political events and lifestyle are not well covered.
According to the degree of usurpation of power, Berdymukhamedov can indulge with the supreme leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong-un or African dictators. Former Minister of Health Berdymukhamedov came to power after the death of the lifelong first president of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov in December 2006. He won the presidential election in 2007, 2012, 2017 and rewrote the Constitution of the country, extended the presidential term from 5 to 7 years.
Turkmenistan is a super-presidential republic, and all key powers are concentrated in the hands of Berdymukhamedov. He appropriated the title of Arkadag, the patron of Turkmenistan, and continued the authoritarian style of Niyazov’s rule with elements of Stalinism and the Sultanate, diluted it with his own personality cult. Berdymukhamedov conducts repression against the opposition.
Turkmenistan is among the five countries where democratic rights and freedoms there are strongly oppressed. There are over 500 people in prisons for every one hundred thousand people in the 5 million people of Turkmenistan. It uses compulsory free labor service in the cotton fields, which bring the military, the unemployed, students, schoolchildren. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram messengers are blocked in the country. Corruption and irrational waste of the state budget are flourishing in Turkmenistan.
A potential successor to the Turkmen president is his 37-year-old son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov. He served as deputy foreign minister and is now deputy governor of the Ahal velayat, the small homeland of his father and the political elite of Turkmenistan.
Misinformation about the death of Berdymukhamedov can be staged to serve his own interest. Rumors were exaggerated for several hours, and during this time, the Turkmen special services were able to observe the reaction of society and current officials. Perhaps Berdymukhamedov prepares the ground for repressions against potential competitors who are interested in taking control of the power and financial flows in advance.
They do not benefit from the coming to power of his son or other close. One way or another, misinformation about the death of the president creates a reason for the transfer of powers of the head of state to the speaker of parliament before the elections. The authorities of Turkmenistan regularly repress and fabricate cases against potential competitors. In 2001, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Boris Shikhmuradov was arrested on charges of plotting a coup.
Cronyism is an attribute of the political life of Turkmenistan. In Turkmenistan, the political clans of horse breeders - Tekians from Kopet-Dag, farmers - Yomuds from the Amudarya river valleys, Murghab and Tedzhen rivers, and Saryk cattle breeders.
Niyazov was a representative of the Geoktepe clan, which belongs to the Tekin clan. The former president appointed his countrymen to responsible posts, promoted immigrants from the Akhal velayat, including Berdymukhamedov, who continues this tradition.
Against the background of economic instability in Turkmenistan, the abolition of all sorts of benefits and subsidies for water and gasoline, managerial mistakes of Berdymukhamedov, opponents of the president could begin to shake the chair under him.
Being the most powerful clan of Turkmenistan, Tekin representatives manage to compete with each other. For example, in the years of Niyazov’s rule, Tekin representatives from the Akhal group and the Erasari tribe dominated the political arena.
Rumors were sent by Moscow analyst Rubaev, who then apologized for the misinformation on his Facebook page and shared his post with a former assistant to the adviser to the presidential administration of the Russian Federation Mikhail Delyagin. Perhaps the Russians played up to Berdymukhamedov to create a pretext for pursuing their opponents.
Recently, warming has been observed in Russian-Turkmen relations. In 2019, Russia resumed purchases of Turkmen natural gas. Gazprom and Turkmengaz signed a contract for the period up to 2024 for the purchase by the Russian side of 5.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.
In August 2018, Putin and Berdymukhamedov held a meeting. Until recently, Ashgabat minimized contacts with Moscow, fearing increased Russian influence on Turkmen politics. In 2016, Gazprom refused to buy Turkmen gas because of disagreements over price.
Interest in strengthening relations with Turkmenistan is felt by Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Against the background of the conflict with the West, he can intensify relations with Turkic-speaking countries. Turkmens and Turks are considered related peoples.
In 2018, Erdogan invited Berdymukhamedov to the opening of the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline project (Turkey-Azerbaijan). In the future, Turkmenistan could join the project and supply its gas to Europe through Turkey. However, the Turkmen leader ignored the invitation. He expects to receive loans and economic assistance from Turkey. In the conditions of the social and economic crisis in Turkey, this is problematic. For Ukraine and the EU, cooperation with Turkmenistan in the gas sector is mainly interesting.